Saturday, 3 February 2018


Starring: Howard Vernon, Anne Libert, Alberto Dalbés
Writer: Jess Franco
Director: Jess Franco

*** This review is of the 74-minute French version ***

As Doctor Frankenstein brings his creation to life, he and his assistant are attacked and killed. The creature is brought to Cagliostro (Vernon), a powerful mesmerist who can control it by thought. Frankenstein's daughter Vera (Beatriz Savón) takes it upon herself to locate the monster, avenge her father and thwart Cagliostro's plan to create a master race.

At this point, let's say a little about the movies of Jess Franco. If you're used to nipping along to the multiplex every few weeks and seeing the latest big studio movie then you may need to prepare yourself for the culture shock of experiencing this style of movie making. It isn't put together in the way you would normally expect and you may be disoriented because it doesn't necessarily have that comforting structure you're used to but hang in there, stay with it and you may end up enjoying it.

As far as I know it's only the UK where this movie is known as The Erotic Rites Of Frankenstein (see the ace Go Video cover above from those halcyon 80s video days) and it's a title which sums up this heady mix of sexualised horror rather nicely. It also promises a level of luridness which you're pretty sure it's never going to deliver but when you have a movie this enjoyably bonkers, who cares?

So you have classic horror characters such as Doctor Frankenstein (of course) and Doctor Seward thrown into a plot that's straight out of the strangest comic book you've ever seen. Fans of the seminal literary sources may be horrified at the treatment but Franco's spin bears very little resemblance to the novels which provided the spark of inspiration and in my opinion there's something encouraging about shooting certain elements of those original stories off at the most bizarre tangent possible.

In this universe, Frankenstein's monster is silver, the dead are re-animated briefly to provide clues to the ongoing mystery, there's an outing for the seldom-used sulphuric acid method of self-defence and instead of the captured good guy awaiting their fate in a dungeon they're wheeled out for entertainment and whipped repeatedly as they try to avoid collapsing on to a load of bloody great spikes while Cagliostro's baying minions watch on.

Central to the piece is Cagliostro's amazing sidekick Melisa (Libert), a half-woman/half-bird who tears her victims to pieces with her talons and often communicates in tweets - not the social media type either. Even if she did, it'd be something along the lines of "Just ripped off someone's face. LOL".

Even if you think this sounds like a load of old cobblers - and, let's face, part of the this film's charm is that it clearly is a load of old cobblers - allow me to point you towards the performance of Anne Libert. She's absolutely astonishing as she vamps around various period locations, barely dressed, dialogue drifting from her in wonderfully smoky tones. Simultaneously gorgeous and nightmarish, it's not too bold a claim to suggest Libert would have found herself being talked of as a horror icon had she been in a more high-profile horror picture.

In a smaller role Vernon is just as effective, letting his screen presence do the talking (whilst letting Libert do most of his actual talking). He's seldom better than he is here and the only disappointment is that he's not in the movie more because he's such a memorable villain. Cagliostro is a bad guy not only in the best pantomime tradition - you feel the soundtrack is missing the boos and hisses whenever he appears - but Vernon imbues him with a sense of genuine, gleeful menace.

This is a definite case of that old adage about people always remembering the bad guy. TEROF has such a striking set of anti-heroes that their opposing paradigms of virtue are staggeringly dull by comparison. Even Savon, with her revenge mission, is pretty much sidelined until the very end and even then she doesn't really figure much in the climactic face-off between good and evil, which isn't much of a face-off at all. In keeping with the general off-kilter nature of the enterprise, the whole thing comes to a fairly abrupt halt and that's your lot. FIN.

You may view this and think it's 74 minutes of your life which you'll never get back. You may view this and wonder what the hell you've just watched - and then think it's 74 minutes of your life you'll never get back. I think it's wonderful that something so out there is out there. For fans of exploitation movies, this is something of a treat. It may lack the gory special effects and the pace of today's horror flicks but it has atmosphere by the bucketload, it looks wonderful and it's driven by the power of a fantastic imagination.

Want to broaden your cinematic horizons? Try this.